By Angela Murrills
Somewhere amid all the Christmas chaos, it occurred to me that the same national newspaper that recently lauded electric blue as the cool new colour had also included it in its list of picks and pans from the past year—and it wasn’t a pick. Maybe that was the tipping point in making me think, “Screw it, 2008 is the year I wear exactly what I like, and if it happens to be on trend, so be it.” Over the holidays, I happened upon a U.K. blog by someone who had resolved not to buy clothes all last year. No surprise that they said it did wonders for their creativity in assembling and accessorizing outfits. So throw those thoughts into the hopper and add the fact that this is the month when you finally hang up your party sparkle and realize that it’s crush hour in your closet.
Why we get rid of some duds and not others often comes down to boredom. But before you chuck stuff into the thrift-store bag indiscriminately or get out the scissors and needle (which we’ll talk about in a minute), try wearing your clothes differently. Fashion magazines are full of inspiration for putting colours together in new ways. As well, the short-over-long-sleeved look is still around, but try doing the same thing with skirts or dresses. You can also hike a long elastic-waisted skirt up to above your bra line, anchor the resulting “dress” with a belt, and sling a cardi over it. These are easy, noninterventionist fixes. After that, you’ll have to get out the needle and thread, or iron-on tape.
The repurposing trend is hot globally and locally as eco-minded designers create one-of-a-kind pieces from found clothing. But do-it-yourselfers, be warned. It’s not as easy as it appears to scissor your way through a stack of thrift-store sweaters and reconfigure them into a garment that doesn’t shriek homemade. Melissa Ferreira at Adhesif Clothing is someone who gets it right, skillfully mixing colour and print. You can find her work at several shops around town, including Tutta Mia (1302 Victoria Drive) and Hum Clothing (3623 Main Street).
If you want to create your own look, know that safety lies in staying within the same palette. For instance, if you plan to rip apart and rejig your old flower-print dress in rust, black, and beige, seek out those same colours in solids, or possibly stripes or checks.
Wardrobe ennui can happen when you simply go off a colour. Now that we’re deep into winter, who isn’t fed up with the grey pieces they bought on a bright autumn day? If it’s a pale hue, you can try dyeing—or overdyeing—it (facts and FAQs at www.ritdye.com). Because I’m sloppy and impatient by nature, and I refuse to follow orders on principle, my projects usually end up speckled and blotchy. However, I have had luck using super-strength tea, which turns down the volume on overly bright or pure-white fabrics.
Someone who does have a handle on the art of the dye pot is Wendy van Riesen, whose Dahlia Drive label shows up on slinky lingerie rewritten as fashion-forward tops and dresses, and who often utilizes metal objects to create spectral images. Her Web site (www.dahliadrive.com) lists a number of dye sources and reveals how to create artistic rust stains or zap dull clothing with Kool-Aid.
The Velvet Room Boutique (2248 West 41st Avenue) and Starfire Gallery (6607 Royal Avenue, Horseshoe Bay) stock a selection from Dahlia Drive, but a trip to community.livejournal.com/t_shirt_surgery/ will steer you toward even more creativity. The photo and description of a Blondie T-shirt reconfigured into a sexy top via yellow jersey and black-and-white stretch leopard side panels immediately made me bookmark this lively forum. It goes way beyond pimping T-shirts, and provides nip-and-tuck suggestions for all kinds of tired clothing: an iPod holder made from Granny’s jacket; a Boy Scout shirt, multi-badged and large enough to camp out in, recut as a foxy fitted top. How about five identical white XXXL sweatshirts rewritten as one frilly dress? A Black Sabbath T-shirt, ribbon, and tulle merged and reincarnated by a goth who refused to compromise her style just because the event was formal? Believe it. I’ve already green-lighted my Shakespeare “Will Power” T-shirt for a second act, and a too-snug black leather skirt for inserts down the sides.
Obvious practicalities are taking garments or fabric samples along with you to Dressew Supply (337 West Hastings Street) or wherever to match braids, buttons, and ribbons, and getting your hands on a sewing machine if you can. That said, hand-stitching a few seams is something you can do during a single episode of CSI: Kitsilano and—let’s be honest here—you’re not creating couture that Stella McCartney is going to lose sleep over. This is simply fast, cheap fashion to cheer you through the slow, broke days of January.